Would cloning necessarily undermine human potential and sense of self?

April 11, 2002

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Mirrors might reflect genetic similarities between human clones but they will never capture the traits that make people individuals, according to Brown University philosopher Dan W. Brock.

In the opinion section "Viewpoint" of the April 12 issue of Science, Brock responds to three arguments concerning the potential of human reproductive cloning to undermine our sense of self, individuality and uniqueness. While human cloning has not yet occurred, advances in science hold out the possibility.

Brock challenges the arguments that cloning would undermine our uniqueness, the value or worth of human beings, and the clone's autonomy in making life decisions. Confusion about the effects of genetics on people's lives, however, could produce some of those fears about individual's sense of self.

"Our valuable uniqueness is not just genetic, but is the full array of qualitative traits ... that define an individual's sense of identity," Brock wrote. "Much of what defines our unique individuality concerns our history, the particular relationships with specific others that we have formed, our particular projects and achievements or accomplishments, how we are treated by others, and the times we have lived through."

For example, to one person being a Christian may be a central feature of self-identity, while to another being a Christian may be relatively unimportant to the sense of identity or self, Brock wrote. The same is true of other defining properties such as nationality, occupation and political ideals.
Brock is the Charles C. Tillinghast Jr. University Professor, professor of philosophy and biomedical ethics, and director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Brown University. He is currently on sabbatical as a visiting senior scholar in the Department of Clinical Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health.

Brock has served as a consultant in biomedical ethics and health policy to numerous national and international groups including the World Health Organization, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, and the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress. As a staff philosopher on the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine from 1981 to 1982, he drafted portions of three reports: Deciding to Forgo Life-Sustaining Treatment, Making Health Care Decisions and Securing Access to Care. In 1993, he was a member of the Ethics Working Group of the Clinton Task Force on National Health Reform.

Brock is the author of more than 130 published papers in bioethics and in moral and political philosophy that have appeared in books and scholarly journals. His books include Life and Death: Philosophical Essays in Biomedical Ethics; and two he co-authored, Deciding for Others: The Ethics of Surrogate Decision Making and From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice.

Brown University

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